Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Rumor of Low-Cost MacBook

Tim Hardwick (Hacker News):

Apple is developing a low-cost MacBook series to compete with Chromebook models in the education sector that could be launched as early as the second half of 2024, claims a new report out of Taiwan.

According to DigiTimes’ industry sources, Apple will likely launch the new product line to differentiate it from the company’s existing MacBook Air and Pro lines. The outer appearance will still use a metal casing but will be made of “different materials” and the cost of the mechanical components will be lower, claims the report.

I’ve been wanting Apple to make such a Mac for a long time. If true, this would be the best Mac rumor in a while. It doesn’t need to have a Retina display or a metal case, though Apple manages to do that with iPads so perhaps it’s not impossible. That said, I don’t expect that Apple would come close to the Chromebook’s price. Maybe it could hit $499.

Colin Cornaby:

This would be a really good move. They have the low cost hardware components now that can perform well. And I don’t think Apple has built a great educational machine since the last plastic MacBook. I’m hoping the durability improvements over something like a MacBook Air are significant. Students are rough on machines.

The build quality on the last plastic MacBooks was actually really amazing. When I worked in schools we had issues with durability on even the iBooks. But those MacBooks were really durable. Not indestructible… But you could drop them and usually not end up with LCD or significant case damage. Can’t say the same about the MacBook Airs.

Jason Snell:

If I had a dime for every “Apple’s going to release a low-end product to compete with other low-end devices” rumor, I’d have a hefty bank account by now. And you can find plenty of stories debunking this report as “sketchy.” At the risk of giving this report more credulity than it deserves, let me try to understand what this report might actually mean.


Why does the M1 MacBook Air exist? Because Apple wants to have a product available at a (relatively) low price point: currently it’s $899 for education and $999 for everyone else.


Update (2023-10-09): See also: Accidental Tech Podcast.

Update (2023-10-27): Tim Hardwick:

Kuo now also believes Apple could be considering such a move to boost ailing MacBook shipments, with a target of 8-10+ million units per year.

Tim Hardwick:

Apple is actively developing new 12-inch and 13-inch MacBook models for sale at a planned price point of around $700 or less, claims a rumor out of Korea.

According to the operator of news aggregator account “yeux1122” on the Naver blog, supply chain sources have “consistently” seen evidence that Apple has low-cost MacBooks in two different sizes in ongoing development.

Update (2023-12-08): Adam Chandler:

Why would I pay double for a device whose only advantage is touch input and a cellular connection? The iPad weighs 3 pounds with keyboard and the 13” MacBook Air weighs 2.7 so again. We have a lighter computer with multiple ports, a real OS and it’s half the price.

Why does the iPad need to exist outside of creative pursuits and to be an iPad at that great $329 price point which works great for kids, non-techie folks and education?


Now that we’re going to have an M3 Max chip powered MacBook Pro in a 16” configuration and maybe a $700 low cost MacBook Lovely that you can do most things on except intense creative pursuits, I think the iPad will lose its place in my travel setup and I’ll just go back to having two laptops again.

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Dream on. Apple won’t make a low cost laptop. If anything it will make MBA with a smaller screen and call it MacBook, but it won’t be cheaper.


It would make sense if during COVID some execs saw the massive growth for a netbook/chromebook like device and saw an opportunity. Given the design and manufacturing, the timeline is about right. But Apple fighting netbooks was the original raison d'être for the iPad, a cheap MacBook would be another acknowledgement of what the iPad can't do.

Was going to buy a chrome book for travel. Ended up buying an old MacBook Pro for $150 off ebay instead. Has a nice large screen (with the nasty retina layer peeling problem, but I don't notice it much when working). Pretty pleased with my choice. Only downside: limited battery life.

If Apple truly wanted to compete with chromebooks, they’d make a rugged clamshell iPad with a built in keyboard. Price it for ~$500 and it would be an amazing product. Spiritual successor to the eMate.

I’d buy it for my kids.

And dream on, I will. Plastic? Give it to me. Last year's chips, I want'em. Non-retina screen, why bother unless failure is the whole point. 8GB of RAM, if you must, but shipping with only an option for 16GB would be more attractive. Cheaper than a Chromebook? I'd rather have that sweet all-battery life for 200 clams more (and so would all the other plebs). Graphics? Only gamers care. Storage? 256GB is skimping, like 8GB RAM. Rugged shell iPad with keyboard, not getting out of bed for iOS. How could it be better? If the screen folded back on itself and I could use an Apple Pencil 2 ... but that is pure crack pipe territory.

MacOS, plastic, M1/16GB/512MB, same screen as iPad 10th gen, 11-12" form factor, all day battery, 600 clams ... two USB C ports and an analog audio out jack. Apple would sell gobs of these and cannibalize iPad, iPhone, and some MacBook Air business. Jobs would have the balls to do this, Apple circa 2004-2014 would have the balls to do this ... 2023 Apple?

Nope, they might try or prototype or consider or want, but pervasive Cookism will kick out another stale turd that is anti-user, anti-working class, anti-repairable, anti-sustainability instead. When/If this ships it will be MacOS M1/8GB/128GB with 256, 512, 1T options for 100 clams each, one USB C port that doesn't support thunderbolt 3 or 4 just USB 2, retina screen—last gen retina, external monitor support of one 4k display at 30hz, plastic screws inside the hinge that will break when the screen is at a certain angle for too long, the retina screen will peel after a few months ... it will become the new worst computer Apple has shipped. The only thing that won't suck is the keyboard because that is the only lesson learned in the last 5 years.

From what I've heard from a friend who has done purchases for three schools, apples Classroom alternative (i.e. the software suite) is lagging way behind what Google offers. And seeing how Apple aren't exactly the shit when it comes to software these days I doubt a cheap MacBook would be enough to make a dent in that market.

On the other hand, ever since Ives left the building Apple hardware has become more usable.

Technically, it's totally possible. It's a package of something like iPad 9 with a keyboard and MacOS instead of iPadOS. Let's say the $399 price tag is doable. It has enough power, battery life, and all the needed features.
Whether Apple would do that or not is not a technical but a political/business question.
An inexpensive Mac mini is probably the lowest price that Apple would go; any MacBook will have to be more expensive. So if they keep the M1 MBA around and keep dropping it's price by $100 with every new model they release, it will become that low-cost MacBook eventually.

Whoever starts these rumors:

1. Has never heard of Google Workspace for Education.
2. Doesn't remember Apple's LAUSD iPad debacle.

Trading screen size with engineering, construction and support quality the device exists already. In the form of an 11” iPad paired with a cheap BT keyboard. The only missing part is macOS.

Try running Figma, TimkerCad, PhotoPea or RunwayML on an iPad

Kids. Re-thinking about what I wrote, and looking up at what others wrote, I realized my mistake.

For younger students range of needs must be simple. They should not run ML, programming or anything of the IT world of business. That may be a later choice for few of them. Portrait orientation, lightweight, small form factor, curated privacy protection are ideal features. A smart booklet assisting them when needed.

For older students who are not involved with the IT trade, the majority, iPad again is perfectly adequate. Portrait orientation, seven years of guaranteed updates, vast choice of apps being killer features.

Also about prices. Millions of second hand, perfectly adequate iPads are on the market. The occasion for our students to learn what a sustainable product means.

So my initial thought of macOS being needed was not correct after all.

Why shouldn't kids learn ML?

My first computer taught me machine code, which at the time was an "adult" topic. Motivated kids can be bright.

Fair enough.

But also iPad up to 6th gen supports Pencil. Pen based interaction being a more common use case than ML on a low cost device, I think.

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